In the latest example of the Trump team minimizing the President’s financial dealings with Russians, senior adviser Kellyanne Conway insisted Tuesday that “nothing came” of a 2015 effort to build a Trump-branded tower in Moscow.
“There is no Trump Tower in Moscow, no visit was made,” Conway told Fox News.
“He has no business dealings there and in this case no deal was made,” she added.
But that surely wasn’t for lack of trying. In addition to extensive stateside real estate transactions with Russian nationals and immigrants from the former Soviet bloc, the Trump Organization engaged in multiple efforts to make a physical mark in Russia with a luxury hotel and condo building in the flashy Moscow City business district.
Trump and his adult children made separate attempts to move forward with such a project three times in the decade leading up to the presidential campaign: in 2005, 2013 and 2015, well into the primary season. Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr. played key roles in those efforts, making several trips to Russia to try to advance prospective deals and giving interviews about their eagerness to set up shop there as they assumed greater control of the family business.
After a few early explorations of business opportunities in Russia dating back to the late 1980s, Trump in 2005 signed a one-year deal with Bayrock Group, the development company where his scandal-plagued business associate Felix Sater was a principal, to transform an old pencil factory into a luxury development.
Trump later blamed the failure of that venture on journalist Tim O’Brien’s book “TrumpNation,” which estimated that the real estate mogul was worth far less than the billions he claimed to possess. Trump said it scared away Russian investors.
But the Trumps didn’t give up. At a 2008 Manhattan real estate conference where Trump Jr. made now-infamous comments about the “money pouring in from Russia” to the family business, Trump’s eldest son also said that he preferred Moscow “over all cities in the world” and had visited the country six times in the previous 18 months.
His sister Ivanka also expressed admiration for Russia in a puffball 2010 interview on her favorite vacation spots, saying St. Petersburg was the place she most wanted to visit, having “been to Moscow many times.” Sater has said he served as an escort to the Trump children during their visits to his homeland, ferrying them around to business meetings and even claiming, in one email obtained by the New York Times, that he arranged for Ivanka to sit at Putin’s desk in the Kremlin during a 2006 trip.
The Trumps’ next stab at breaking ground in the Russian capital came three years later. With the help of Aras and Emin Agalarov, real estate developers in Russia who hosted Miss Universe 2013 in Moscow, Trump met with some of the country’s biggest oligarchs and Kremlin-allied bankers.
Trump clearly felt buoyed by those November 2013 meetings, writing on Twitter, “TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next.” But while Aras Agalarov has said he signed an agreement with the mogul to build a Trump Tower, the project apparently never made it beyond preliminary discussions.
The final effort kicked off months into Trump’s run for the White House. Longtime ally and personal attorney Michael Cohen teamed up with Sater, an old acquaintance of his, on a dual effort to finally move forward with the tower project while boosting Trump’s presidential campaign.
“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote to Cohen in a 2015 email reviewed by the Times, bragging that his close ties to Putin could help them secure the construction deal. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”
Trump himself signed a letter of intent with a Moscow-based firm in October 2015, according to a statement Cohen provided to congressional investigators. After the project stalled yet again, Cohen reached out to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s personal spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, with a plea for assistance in January 2016.
Peskov told reporters Wednesday that he never responded to Cohen’s email because it wasn’t his “job,” adding that Ivanka Trump never visited Putin’s office or sat in his chair, according to Bloomberg.
Like previous attempts, the Cohen-Sater venture fizzled, this time as Trump was leading a crowded Republican presidential primary field.
Should the Trumps ever hope to revisit such a project, however, it appears they’d have willing partners.
Emin Agalarov told the Washington Post last summer—right around the time that his publicist was arranging a meeting to get damaging information about Hillary Clinton into Trump Jr.’s hands as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign—that the family would be interested in a similar future venture.
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